The time has come when diversity and inclusion (D&I) are required for law firms. Now, it is increasingly common for client companies to want their advising team to be diverse. In addition to this, in terms of talent acquisition, recently firms that have not attained enough D&I tend to be avoided. Each office must continue to focus efforts on being a “chosen law firm” out of necessity.

“In order for law firms to enhance their sustainability and scalability amidst the shortage of corporate legal practi-tioners in the trend of globalisation and a change in mindset. To attract young lawyers, it is essential to establish mech-anisms of D&I (diversity and inclusion) that embraces women lawyers and other minorities to building long-term career and participation in leadership,” says Akira Nomura, CEO of Innovation Plat-form for Business Legal, which conducts organisation consulting and agent work for business firms and lawyers.

Due to the nature of the business, Innovation Platform for Business Legal has a lot of opportunities to speak with the management of law firms. Law firms recognise that “D&I enhances their abil-ity to attract more businesses and excel-lent human resources” and have a sense of crisis, according to Nomura.

Currently, most of the companies requiring D&I for external law firms are foreign. Airbnb has internal criteria to share with outside business partners. “Our criteria to help promote D&I among new and existing law firm partners has included fundamental representation requirements relating to gender and underrepresented minority groups, as well as evaluations on compliance. We recognise that law firms come in differ-ent shapes and sizes, and so we continue to iterate on the criteria we use to ensure that they lead to the outcomes we hope for,” notes Darrell Chan, APAC deputy general counsel at Airbnb. “In Japan, Nishimura & Asahi reacted positively to our efforts to promote diversity, and subsequently accelerated its D&I initia-tives.”

Another example is Microsoft. In 2008, the company established the Law Firm Diversity Program (LFDP), and Microsoft Japan also applies its principles when engaging an external law firm. According to Yoko Oshima, assistant general counsel and Japan lead for corporate, external and legal affairs, “it is imperative that the law firms that work with our business and legal teams reflect that diversity and remain committed to creating inclusive environments where lawyers and legal professionals from all backgrounds can thrive. Diverse teams bring a range of lived experiences and unique insights, and are more creative, more innovative and drive greater customer and client engagement.”

Women who have been used to such culture are steadily progressing toward the core of their companies and choosing which law firm to hire.


That said, because female lawyers only make up about 20 percent of the whole lawyers in the country, even if law firms try to meet the expectations of the client, it isn't easy to make a team gender-even. Lawyers say that their clients are also aware of this and often request a reasonable team formation that considers the current situation.

“There are several law firms that say they want to employ men only,” confides Nobuaki Minato, managing partner of medium-sized and long-established Minato Interjectional Law Office. The firm has put a lot of effort into promoting D&I, and its male-to-female ratio is nearly 50:50. This is because “only by matching the gender ratio can we provide appropriate legal services and become a strong and competitive law firm,” Minato notes. The firm is also active in child-rearing support.

Some firms, for the moment, cannot support childcare leave with a compensation package unlike Big Five firms, but “whether it is paid is not the main issue of D&I,” a partner of a law firm who asks not to be named says. “Whether one can continue their career is what is important, and I am glad that I can return to work after childcare leave.”

Although the ratio of women who pass the bar examinations continues to increase, the percentage of women who make up the number of newly registered lawyers remains at about 20 percent. At Oh-Ebashi LPC & Partners, a long-established and mid-sized law firm, the ratio of female associates was 32 percent in 2022, and about 40 percent of the lawyers it hired last year and the year before were women.

“Our office established a D&I policy in January. As we stated in our D&I policy on our website, we are aiming to become a firm that has a working environment where all members, regardless of race, nationality, religion/creed, disability, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, work style, etc., can exercise their abilities to the fullest extent,” says Ayako Kanamaru, a partner at Oh-Ebashi’s Tokyo office. She predicts that by the time the younger members of the firm are promoted to partners, the ratio of women to men might become more balanced than it is now.

Masataka Ogasawara, the co-founder of ZeLo, an emerging law firm, and Eri Namba, an attorney responsible for recruiting, say that its wider adoption of technology since before COVID-19 has helped promote D&I and its online work environment that allows not only women but men to raise children has significantly contributed to the realisation of work-life balance. “With lawyers who belonged to overseas and foreign firms at the helm, we have formed an organisation that is cognisant of international standards. We are achieving D&I. Our international department is currently 40 percent female and 60 percent of people are from foreign countries. We have also balanced work and childcare for including men,” says Satoshi Nomura, an attorney who heads ZeLo’s international team and is qualified in Japan and New York.


Having said that, if you are asked why is D&I important as a fundamental issue, is there a persuasive answer to even those who shun female lawyers? Can people who do not care about D&I thinking only of short-term cost performance be persuaded?

To this question, most lawyers Asian Legal Business interviewed say that if there is greater diversity, there are more ideas from different perspectives, increasing the sustainability of the firm as an organisation.

Additionally, due to calls for stricter compliance, including soft laws, and more ESG-related tasks such as human rights due diligence, there is more work for lawyers, no matter what the Japanese economy is in. For that reason, major firms have a strong drive to increase their workforce, which has caused competition between offices to secure talented young staff. During the hiring process, it is challenging to neglect hiring women, who make up a quarter of newly registered lawyers. And that is not all. Male lawyers have begun to avoid the lifestyle of the past in which they forgot to eat or sleep without involvement in child rearing and other everyday life at home.

“In these circumstances, firms must put efforts into D&I if they want to grow,” states Nomura. “Whether to deem D&I as a great opportunity to change in the face of the challenge or ignore it will make a gulf between firms. Now it seems no problem, but in five to 10 years, they will find the gulf hard to narrow.”





外部の法律事務所にD&Iの実現を求める企業は今のところ外資系が多い。Airbnbは、取引先と共有しているD&Iの基準がある。「弊社の基準は、現在取り引きがあるまたは今後取り引きをするであろう外部の法律事務所に、性別とその他の社会一般で十分に活躍していないマイノリティーを、助言を担当するチームに反映してもらい、また、その評価と遵守を促すものです。法律事務所はその構成や規模に違いがありますから、弊社が希望する結果を出してもらえるように、この基準について繰り返し話しています」と、同社のダレル・チャンAPAC副ゼネラル・カウン      セルは話す。「日本では、西村あさひ法律事務所が、弊社のD&I推進に前向きに対応して、所内でも対策を進めてくれています」

マ        イクロソフトも 好 例 だ 。同 社は2008年に「Law Firm Diversity Program(LFDP)」を米国で始め、日本マイクロソフトもその基本的な考え方を外部法律事務所を起用する際に適用しているという。「私共と一緒に働く法律事務所が、ダイバーシティーをチームに反映させ、あらゆるバックグラウンドを持つ弁護士やリーガル・プロフェッショナルが成長できる環境の維持にコミットしていることは、とても大切です。多様性のあるチームは、多様な経験と独自の視点が幅広い形で結集され、よりクリエイティブで革新的であり、またよりよいクライアントサービスを提供できるからです」と、大島葉子執行役員政策渉外・法務本部長は述べる。



ただし、全体として女性弁護士の割合が20%程度という現状により、クライアントからの期待に応えるにしても、50:50のチ ーム編成で臨むのは難しい。これについては、クライアント側も承知しており、現状を勘案した合理的なチーム編成を求められる場合が多いと弁護士たちは言う。


一部の事務所は五大事務所のように有償で育児休業を支援することはできていないが、「有償か無償かは主要な問題ではありません」と、ある法律事務所のパ ートナーは力説する。「キャリアを続けられるかどうかが大切なのです。私は育児休業の後に仕事に戻ることができてとてもうれしく思っています」







加えて、現在、ソフトローも含 めたコンプライアンスの強化や、人権デューデリジェンス等ESG関連の業務等の増加により、日本経済の停滞にも関わらず弁護士の仕事は増えている。そのため、大手事務所を中心に採用数を増やしたいと言う希望が強く、若くて優秀な人材の争奪戦が事務所間で起きており、その時に新規に弁護士登録をした25%の女性を無視して採用を行うことは難しい。そればかりではなく男性弁護士も、一昔前のように寝食を忘れて働き育児には関わらないというような生き方を忌避するようになっている。



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